Excavating in Second Life (3)

Some nice feedback over at ClioAudio on my plans for a virtual excavation in Second Life –

“In my head till now Second Life has been next door to Doom, Quake and Half-Life, but not as compelling due to the lack of gore. The archaeological models I’ve seen have been painstakingly created, but they’ve always seemed unrealistic. Partly because of the limitations of technology, but also because they tend to be re-creations of monuments and artefacts in pristine condition. Between them Shawn and Eric have shown Second Life could be much more interesting if you take another approach and try and build a virtual excavation.”

Alun raises an important point when he expresses reservations about the fact that this is in Second Life.

“Really it’s the fact it’s in Second Life which is my concern. Is it possible to export the information out from Second Life and make it accessible to other programs? If not then you would seem to be at the mercy of one company. Which is why I should go back and see what you can and cannot do in Second Life.”

It is in fact possible to export information out of Second Life – the Sloodle project for instance has been working very hard to integrate the Moodle learning management system with learning activities carried out in Second Life. I’ve used some of the tools that they’ve developed to post directly from Second Life into the blog part of a Moodle course area, for instance. I can imagine recording information from the virtual excavation directly in this way… but sometimes the easiest way to export information from one system or world is to do it in your head. If I have Nabonidus and Second Life both open at the same time on a computer, I can just switch from one to the other…

People with whom I chat about things like Second Life express reservations about my project being on just the one platform, owned by a commercial company. At the current moment, there’s not much I can do about that. Part of me wants to say, ‘but do you object to writing your papers using MS Word?’. The analogy isn’t exact. Were Microsoft to go under, your copy of Word would still work. If Linden Labs goes under, Second Life might cease to exist altogether. This is a very real concern. Other virtual worlds (proper games) have gone *ppphhht* as their parent companies pull the plug (The Economist did an article, ‘The End is Virtually Nigh’ on one such). New projects, such as the Multiverse project, would allow you to set up your own world independent of a commercial company (see also this article). But really, how many of us archaeologists have the kind of skill sets necessary to get something like that up and running?

This was the initial genius of Second Life – it promised to let anybody (with a broadband connection), build their own virtual reality. Now in truth it’s not so simple, but as the first to really roll that out on a grand scale, it has been a success. I fully expect, if I am able to get this virtual excavation to work as I imagine it, that someday I’ll have to migrate it to a different world or platform. It probably won’t be a straight one-to-one transfer. But having done it once, and understanding what is involved, it’ll be much easier to do a second time.

Multiverse & Sketchup : Doom of Second Life?

I have always had difficulty in building what I wanted to build in Second Life. Not only do I find it difficult to manipulate primitives etc, but I have to be online to do it. Some of us still live in rural areas to which the telecoms and cable companies are not interested in providing broadband service (I lurk outside the closest library with wireless to get my broadband). Anyway, various reports are emerging of a collaboration between Multiverse and Google, allowing models created in Sketchup AND terrain from Google Earth (!) to be imported into any online world hosted by multiverse. Couple that with Multiverse’s ability to allow the user to move from world to world, and I think we might just have a challenger to Second Life on our hands. ‘Doom’ might be too strong a word, but hey, makes for a great headline.

From an archaeological point of view, creating 3d representations of a site using Sketchup, and then moving that with the terrain into an online world, with the associated annotations etc could really be revolutionary – what immediately springs to mind is that this would make a far better way of publishing a site than a traditional monograph. Internet Archaeology (the journal) has been trying for just that kind of thing for a while. Maybe IA should host a world in Multiverse…?

From C-Net News:

“Get ready for online games set in your favorite Google Earth locations.

Virtual-worlds platform developer Multiverse Network is set to announce a partnership Tuesday that will allow anyone to create a new online interactive 3D environment with just about any model from Google’s online repository of 3D models, its 3D Warehouse, as well as terrain from Google Earth.

The idea is simple: Multiverse’s technology–which gives game developers tools to design custom virtual worlds–will let those designers pick and choose from most of the millions of 3D models created using Google’s 3D software tool SketchUp, and to import pieces of terrain, as defined by entering specific longitude and latitude data, from Google Earth.

If you want to build a virtual world centered on, say, downtown San Francisco, you could use the new technology to create the area itself and populate it with the digital versions of real-world buildings that have been created and uploaded to the 3D Warehouse.

Virtual world images “The goal is to grab things from the 3D Warehouse when looking at things in Google Earth and then make an instant multiverse world,” said Multiverse co-founder Corey Bridges. “What we’ve done is provide a more streamlined interface for using (Google’s technology) as a virtual-world production tool.”

Until now, incorporating this kind of information from Google has mostly been the province of fantasy. For some time, Multiverse has made it possible to upload some SketchUp models into a virtual world created using its platform. But the technology the company plans to announce Tuesday, informally called “Architectural Wonders,” brings the concept to much more well-rounded fruition, and answers what some people have been crying out for as obvious and necessary technology integration. MORE

Digitally Distributed Urban Environments

If you’re interested in some of what’s out there in terms of virtual representations of complex environments (more than a single building) and the kinds of things that might be possible, why not take a look at Andrew Hudson-Smith’s PhD thesis? The enterprising archaeologist will surely see the possibilities…

Chapter 5, opening of which is quoted below, is enormously helpful for understanding how it is we got from panoramics, to VRML, to Second Life.
Digitally Distributed Urban Environments:
The Prospects for Online Planning.
Andrew Hudson-Smith

Chapter 5

This section explores a range of methods to model existing urban
scenes. The modelling of such scenes as a portrayal of the existing
environment is crucial to view any proposed development in context.
It is however the modelling of the existing environment which poses
the most difficulty… It is much more difficult to
build a three-dimensional model of an existing environment than a
new development. With this in mind, methods are examined based on
four levels of detail and abstraction, namely panoramic visualisation,
prismatic primitive, prismatic with roof detail, and full architectural
rendering. Firstly we will examine panoramic visualisation…

pg114

….and now, the Multiverse!

Some people I talk to about virtual worlds get nervous at the thought that a place like Second Life is owned by a for-profit company. The way I see it, allowing somebody else to handle the infrastructure is a positive bonus, but for the committed DIY-er, there is now the opportunity to build and host your own online world, courtesy of the tools created by Multiverse. As I write, I am awaiting the patcher to finish loading up, so that I may enter the Dark Horizons Universe…